IDAHO FALLS, Idaho - It's National Play Therapy Week. The awareness week is new, but play therapy has been around for several decades.
"Play therapy also uses the natural language of a child which is play," said Rebecca Star, a Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor.
Children participate in counseling sessions in a play room. Generally, it's child-directed, meaning the kid gets to choose how to play, and the therapist observes. Often times, young children haven't developed the verbal skills to explain how they are feeling. However, they may express their thoughts through play.
"I might think, and the parents might think, that the child is being oppositional because of the parents' divorce, when in reality, the child is being oppositional because a kid is bullying him at school," said Registered Play Therapy-Supervisor Dr. Emily Oe.
Toys like animals and dolls give kids a safe distance from real life situations.
"It's not the child telling me what's going on with them. It's the puppet telling me," said Starr.
Oe has a sandbox that children build in. Children will often incorporate things like fences. Fences provide barriers, to keep things out or to protect.
Many kids who see Oe or Starr don't know it's therapy. That's part of why Oe doesn't tell parents everything the child says in her playroom.
"If I would say to a parent "You know, she plays with the snake every session, she just takes care of it, it's her best pet,' then when they go home one day and they are walking by the pet store and Mom says, 'There is a snake just like you have in Emily's room,' then it could slow down or stop the therapeutic process just with an innocent remark," Oe said.
Families can choose play therapy, or they may be directed by another doctor.
"Part of the awareness week is trying to help parents understand more about play therapy and know that they can ask for a referral to a play therapist," said Starr.
Two families who chose play therapy told Local News 8 they saw significant improvements in their children in their year of therapy. The parents initially chose play therapy because they felt helpless trying to help their child deal with trauma.